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How will the 2008 Games Impact China’s Policies?

The Olympics has always been about bringing the world together to celebrate the greatest athletes. It also, undoubtedly, leaves behind an indelible mark on our environment when we consider the huge undertakings of the events, from the Olympic villages to the actual movement of people, the fuel, energy, and sheer force of assembling an extravaganza of this magnitude.

That’s why Beijing’s “green” considerations during the 2008 Olympics mark a significant shift reflecting the world’s growing awareness of its environmental footprint, while recognizing the need for incorporating sustainable policies in all endeavours, whether big or small. Although nobody’s quite sure if Beijing chose to incorporate sustainable practices as a mega-PR move, or out of a sincere concern for the environment (I’m holding back a laugh), it doesn’t really matter. The end result is positive, and remains the focus of this post.

If we look at the LEED-Gold Certified Olympic Village, it boasts some rather fantastic selling points, including near-zero net energy consumption. Here’s a short list of how it got there:

  • Solar heat, solar electric cogeneration, and solar hot water “intelligent” devices that help consume less than 1/30 the energy of traditional buildings of similar size (as it stands, the Village has 22 six-storey buildings and 20 nine-storey buildings)
  • Heat exchange systems that draw almost 8 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy from solar sources
  • Geothermal heat pumps as the building’s main energy supply source
  • Use of nearby sewage treatment plants to convert their energy through heat pump devices, saving an additional 40% of energy versus conventional air conditioning and heating systems
  • Water-recycling programs that reclaim 200 tons of water, daily
  • Lithium battery-powered buses around the Olympic Village

It’s noteworthy that Olympic Villages usually go on to house ordinary residents after the games are over, so the benefits of Beijing’s green buildings will continue to be enjoyed for future generations. Additionally, news of Beijing’s winning Olympic bid in 2001 helped spark the expansion of its public transport infrastructure, the creation of new parks, additional bus transport links, and the introduction of water recycling programs in Beijing—initiating the “green legacy” of the Olympics. Not bad for a country boasting one of the highest CO2 emission rates in the world.

The Great Wall of Waste
Despite China’s enthusiasm to portray itself as a greening-tour-de-force, its scorecard outside of the games doesn’t warrant cheers. In fact, quite the opposite; through its over-industrialization and dismal policies, China’s landscape, air pollution, and water treatment all rank as some of the worst in the developing world. With 15% of China’s yearly death rate attributed to air pollution, and concerns over its vastly polluted water (among other things), China faces some big challenges going forward.

Hoping for Change
With the games drawing to an end today, it’s up to China—its government and its residents, to decide whether they feel inspired enough to spread the green legacy throughout the rest of the country, or continue to wallow in their over-dependency on coal.